Archive for October, 2013

As we pulled up to the playground, I could barely get my son’s seatbelt unlocked before he leapt out of the car and took off down the sidewalk toward the playground’s entrance. My husband and I grabbed our coffees from the car, and by the time I looked up again, there was a little boy sprawled out on the sidewalk and another boy standing next to him. I quickly realized my two-year-old son, Eddie, was the one standing, and a slightly older boy, who had suddenly appeared next to my son, was the one who had fallen.

“You okay?” I yelled to the boy.

He didn’t say anything. He just got up and ran off to catch up with my son. As the two neared the entrance to the playground, they collided, only this time, it was my son who was on the ground. I ran over.prison yard

“Are you all right?” I said, helping him up.

“Yeah,” he said.

As my son stood up, the other boy said, “I’m sorry.”

“Oh, that’s sweet, but you don’t have to be sorry,” I said. “It was an accident.”

My son and the older boy then ran off. When they were out of earshot, my husband leaned over and said, “It wasn’t an accident. He hip-checked Eddie. I think he was embarrassed because he fell down.”

Once inside the playground, Eddie moved around from the slide to the sea-saw to the plastic boulder wall that led up to the monkey bars. As I watched him climb the wall, I suddenly heard a bam! and then a little whimper. It was the little boy who’d hip-checked my son. He had been standing on a landing at the top of the monkey bars and tried to slide down a nearby pole but had no traction so he went straight down, landing at the bottom of the pole in a heap. I looked around to see if his parents were there, but no one appeared, so I walked over.

“Are you all right?” I said, giving the top of his head a little rub.

“Yeah,” he said. I helped him up and asked him his name. He said it was Sammy and that he was almost four years old. He was going to have a birthday soon. He then ran off.

A few minutes later, I heard another bam! as Sammy fell down the same pole. This time a stocky older man with a rubbery face and hands like baseball mitts walked over to the boy, though he didn’t help him up.

“Push your sneakers into the pole. It’ll slow you down,” he said gruffly.

As I stood watching them, I heard a mousy little voice on the monkey bars above us say, “Will you be my friend?”

The boy speaking had glasses and a crew cut. He was talking to a dark-haired boy climbing the monkey bars next to him. The dark-haired boy didn’t respond.

Suddenly, there was a voice from the ground, below. “My son is asking you something,” said the father of the boy with the glasses.

“Will you be my friend?” the little boy asked again.

The dark-haired boy shrugged his shoulders and said, “Sure.”

Satisfied, the father of the boy with the glasses stepped back and folded his arms over his chest.

Oh boy, I thought. Talk about helicopter parenting. It was cringe-inducing to watch. There are a lot of reasons why parents shouldn’t intervene. Aside from not allowing our children to develop their own coping skills, we don’t always know what’s going on with the situation at hand. I have a neighbor who takes students on nature walks, and she said as she was walking down the beach this summer when she spotted some shells that are common in Florida but extremely rare in New Jersey. She wondered how they got here – until she saw a man up ahead who was dropping the shells into the sand.

“He was a craftsman, and the shells he doesn’t use, he drops on the beach. He told me kids love finding them,” my neighbor said.

I looked over at the father of the boy with the glasses. He was now chatting with the woman standing next to him, but his arms were still crossed over his chest as he kept a watchful eye on the monkey bars to make sure no one committed any infractions against his son. I suddenly heard a commotion on a landing high in the air at the other end of the monkey bars. Sammy and my son had their arms on each other’s shoulders, and I could hear my son saying, “Nooo!” The struggle was taking place right near an opening in the railing, and I was afraid my son was going to fall through.

“Hey!” I yelled, running over. “Hey! Stop it!” I was speaking to Sammy, who was the larger of the two and whom I naturally assumed was the aggressor.

As the two boys released each other, Sammy’s father appeared again.

“Sammy was trying to stop your son from going near the opening,” he said flatly.

“Really?” I said and looked up at Sammy. “Well, that was really nice, Sammy. Thank you.”

I walked up the stairs to the landing and brought my son down.

A few minutes later, Eddie was standing by a plastic wall that had a wheel in it that resembled a small tire. The wheel could be spun from both sides of the wall. As Eddie was spinning it from one side, Sammy walked over and tried to spin it from the other but couldn’t because Eddie’s hand was on it. The next time I looked up, Sammy had walked over to Eddie’s side of the wall, and I saw Sammy’s hand on Eddie’s. I could hear my son saying, “Stop saying, ‘No.’ “Eddie then walked away.

I knew that Sammy kid was no good. I was starting to see the playground like a prison yard, where the largest and the meanest rule the roost and the smaller kids just have to suck it up. A small part of me felt like this is a microcosm of life, and I have to let my son fight his own battles, that he’s not going to learn how to take care of himself in the big cruel world if I try to protect him. A bigger part of me thought if this kid Sammy goes near my son one more time, I’m going to hip-check him right out of the playground. As we left to go home, Sammy was loitering by the exit, no doubt trying to get one last look at his prey.

The next morning, as Eddie played in his bath, I was curious to know how he felt about being bullied at the playground. I was hoping he hadn’t internalized it.

“So, did you like that boy Sammy? The one you met yesterday at the park?” I asked him.

He looked at me blankly.

“You remember Sammy. You were both spinning that wheel, and he told you to stop spinning yours,” I said.

Eddie seemed to have a moment of recognition.

“He come over and say, ‘No. Don’t do this.’ I tell him, ‘Don’t say ‘No.’”

“Yeah, that’s him,” I said. “He told you not to turn that wheel.”

Eddie paused for a moment and then said, “He a good kid. We have fun.”

And with that, he started flying his dinosaur around the bathtub, making the sound of a motor with his lips.

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My son, Eddie, marched through the pumpkin patch in his work boots, bypassing all of the pumpkins and stopping only to yank weeds out of the ground or pick up a rock.blog pumpkins

“Don’t you want to pick a pumpkin, pal? You can have any one you want. I’ll carry it to the car,” I said.

But my son wasn’t really interested in picking pumpkins.

“Look, Mommy,” he said, lifting a big dirty rock into the air and throwing it.

“That’s great,” I said. “How about a pumpkin? This one looks nice.”

I walked over to a perfectly round light orange pumpkin with smooth skin and held it up. My son barely noticed. He sat down on a pumpkin and started poking at the dirt with a stick. With the clear blue sky and the autumnal colors of the vegetation, it was a beautiful scene. I wanted to take a photo. My husband likes to see what we’ve done during the day, being out and about while he’s cooped up in an office. I took out my camera.

He wasn't interested in picking pumpkins.

He wasn’t interested in picking pumpkins.

“Hey, bud, let’s send daddy a picture of you in the pumpkin patch. Look up at me and smile,” I said.

My son continued to look down at the ground.

“Pal?” I said.

He ignored me. I took a photo, of the side of his head.

All my photos of my son are from the side, in part because my camera is really slow, and in part because my son will simply not look at me when I ask him to.  It’s not that he won’t look at a camera. It’s that he won’t look at my camera. My brothers have taken beautiful photos of him, smiling, laughing with glee, looking lovingly into the lens. All mine are of beautiful scenery and my son’s cheek or the crown of his head.

I took Eddie deeper and deeper into the pumpkin patch, the farm stand and parking lot were falling away into the distance. But despite my prodding, he had no interest in picking a pumpkin. In fact he was beginning to lose interest in the weeds and rocks.

“Here’s a good one,” I eventually said and picked a nice round one and carried it back to the farm stand.

When we got to the stand, Eddie said he wanted to pick a pumpkin.

“This one,” my son said, running over to some shelves where the farmer had displayed a variety of pumpkins and large gourds. As he reached over to grab a large pumpkin from the top shelf, he spied another display a few feet away and ran over there. “No, this one,” he said, reaching for a pumpkin on the bottom shelf.

“You can have both,” I said.

As I paid for the pumpkins, Eddie wandered over to a small pile of pumpkins that had been piled up on the ground just outside the farm stand. He looked so cute surrounded by pumpkins, like an Anne Geddes photo. I pulled out my camera.

He refused to look at me.

He refused to look at me.

“Hey, pal. Look over here,” I said. Eddie looked over for a moment and then as soon as he saw the camera, he looked down.

“Up here. Oh, c’mon. Just for a second,” I said. I stood for a moment, poised to take a photo but waiting for that moment when he would look up. He ignored me.

“Eddie? Can you look up at me for just a second?” I said, my voice growing visibly annoyed.

Some people might just drop it at that point, figuring they have enough photos of their kid. Me, I see obstinance as disrespectful, and I make it my life’s goal to change that person’s behavior. It’s a charitable trait that has me reclaiming my place in grocery lines when someone has cut in front of me, or yelling at a contractor that I will report them to the authorities when they don’t return my phone call.

“Eddie, please just look at mommy?” I said, regrouping and trying honey.

“No. Don’t want to,” he said. He continued to stare down at the ground.

I put the camera down, picked up the pumpkins I’d bought and headed toward the car.

“I want this pumpkin,” I could hear him say from behind me.

“I already bought you two pumpkins,” I muttered as I loaded the pumpkins into the car.

“I want another one,” he said.

“Two is enough,” I said.

“Noooooo. That one,” he whined, pointing to the pile of pumpkins.

“Yeah, and I want you to look at me when I’m taking a photo,” I said. “We were having such a nice day, weren’t we? I took you to the pumpkin patch, I bought you some pumpkins, and when I asked you to look at the camera, you wouldn’t. So the next time you want something, I’m going to say, ‘No. I don’t want to.’”

With every word I said, I knew I should just stop talking. There’s supposed to be a difference between an adult and a child, but at that moment, the gap seemed very narrow.

I watch how other mothers talk to their kids, or how my son’s teachers talk to him. They divert the conversation, sending it in another direction, and in doing so, change the child’s mood. It’s as if the conversation was just a block in the road, and they simply go around it. I march right into it and find myself in heated battle – with a two-year old.

Eddie and I got into the car and stopped at a gourmet grocery down the road. As we pulled into the entrance, I remembered that the last time I was there, I’d gotten into an altercation with a woman in the parking lot.

They put the one-way sign underneath your car.

They put the one-way sign underneath your car.

The lot had one little street that ran along the side of the store and provided the only access to the highway. All the rows in the parking lot spilled out onto that one little street, which was a one-way. But there was nothing to indicate traffic could only go one way except for an arrow painted on the roadway, which was faded and probably sitting under my car. Needless to say, I pulled out onto that main road in the wrong direction, and I soon met up with another car heading directly for me. I quickly realized what was going on and reasoned the best plan of action was to take the first left I could to get off that street, but it was a plan that had me driving directly into the woman coming toward me.  Eventually, she wound up blocking my left-hand turn before I could reach it, leaving me no choice but to back up down the lane so that she could continue to move forward, a prospect I found so irritating, I leapt out of my car to tell her so.

Soon, another car came rolling down the lane and began beeping his horn. I attempted to plead my case, but he just yelled, “It’s a one-way road!” Apparently, everyone knew this fact about the road but me, but it didn’t stop me from holding my ground. I stood outside my car for another second or two, to prove my point, and then walked back to my car to get to the business of backing up. I felt like driving backwards all the way home, to make a point about how shabbily I’d been treated, but that point clearly would have been lost once I’d left the parking lot.

In retrospect, I could probably have found another way to get around the woman, rather than trying to go through her, but it’s just not the way I’m built. Hopefully, I’ll learn the finer art of circumvention, for the sake of both me and my son, before he reaches adolescence.

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